What does £7.3m get you nowadays? A League One player? An out of contract youngster from another top-flight club? A Premier League title? Liverpool will be hoping the latter of course. The amount in question is the pay-off Roy Hodgson received when his short stint as manager came to its much-needed end at Anfield. His tenure will probably only be remembered for an embarrassing home defeat to lowly Northampton. He certainly doesn’t receive the same welcome as Rafa Benitez when returning, but he does have the chance this weekend to pay his previous employers back and then some. As Pep’s City travel to Selhurst Park looking to return to the top of the table and put the pressure back on Liverpool, The Eagles will be no pushovers in front of their own fans. Guardiola faces somewhat of a dilemma in this round of fixtures however. A goal down from their first leg Champions League quarter final against Tottenham, will the Spaniard have the cojones to rest some of his big guns for the return leg on Wednesday? Truth be told, if Man City win the league, no eyebrows will be raised and no fanfare will be heard from the boardroom. Should City however crash out of Europe again without getting anywhere near a final, it will be seen as a failure on Guardiola’s resume.
One thing is for sure, facing an already relegated Huddersfield at home, Pochettino will no doubt rest key players with the Champions League in mind. A different fixture may have caused more of a headache for the Argentinian, he could not have hoped for the fixture list to have been kinder to the North London outfit. With Kane seemingly out for a long period having injured the ankle that kept him out for a large chunk of the season already, Tottenham cannot afford any niggles with a trip to the Eithad looming this week. Europe’s elite competition has caused all the English teams still involved a quandary in their league run-ins. Man Utd host West Ham in the late kick off on Saturday, knowing they need to turn around a one goal deficit in Camp Nou on Tuesday. If they fall at this hurdle, it is imperative that they finish in the top four. Baring this in mind, Solskjaer does not have the luxury of being afforded to rest players. In sixth place, three points adrift of Tottenham in fourth, they are playing catch-up. Anything but a win could see the need to win the Champions League to be in it next season. With Arsenal’s poor away form and Chelsea travelling to Anfield, this could be an opportunity to gain ground on the sides above them.
Liverpool are exercising ghosts of seasons past so far. With the arrival of Sarri’s Chelsea on Sunday, they could finally silence the West Londoners’ taunts of Gerrard’s mistake in a previous title race. In their Europa League tie this week, the manager did try to play as much of this game without his big hitters on the field. Eventually, the need was too great to give them an evening off. With both teams favoured to progress in their respective European ties, this game has the potential to see full strength sides fielded with as much care for the word ‘Europe’ as a game of Pictionary over Nigel Farage’s house. One thing you can take for granted is that Anfield will be bouncing on Sunday and their fans will make this a daunting prospect for the underachieving Chelsea squad. Klopp may be forgiven for seeing this as the biggest challenge their remaining fixtures pose – as before, anything but all three points is unacceptable. With Arsenal travelling to cup finalists Watford, Sarri could have an opportunity to cement that top four finish. To do so, he will have to address a dire record against ‘the big six’ this season.
Away from the top of the table, the relegation battle could be all but decided after Saturday’s fixtures. As Cardiff City travel to Burnley, defeat along with wins for Southampton and Brighton would pretty much seal their fate, with a one-way ticket to the Championship being the unwanted prize. This is the biggest game in the Welsh club’s season and after recent results, even a win at Turf Moor, may not be enough. Southampton face Wolves at St Mary’s, while Brighton host Bournemouth at home in a south coast derby. It’s questionable what both of the away teams have to play for and their form of late has been very hit and miss. Potentially, Bournemouth’s two defeats in as many games could relegate Warnock’s side due to the opponents they lose to. Fulham, already realising their season will kick off a week earlier next time out, see Silva’s Everton travel to Craven Cottage. At this stage of the season, we will find fixtures that really prove to be a damp squib, this being one of them. Doing three million keep ups in a McDonalds ad must seem like a walk in the park compared to management for Scott Parker.
Friday Night Football returns this weekend with Brendan Rodgers’ resurgent Leicester taking on Rafa’s Newcastle………fact! Although they are five points off the marker clubs set as a safety point for Premier League survival, they boast a seven-point gap to the Welsh side. It would take a monumental finish to the campaign by Cardiff surely to drag The Magpies into a relegation battle. This said, Rodgers has his eyes on securing seventh spot which could carry European qualification should Man City win the FA Cup. With Wolves, Everton and Watford currently all within touching distance of this position, Leicester need all three points from this game. With Vardy starting to rediscover form, Maddison having a stand-out debut season and Tielemens controlling the midfield, this is not an easy fixture for any side let alone Rafa’s goal-shy Newcastle. With all to play for at the top, bottom and even seventh place, never has an end to a Premier League season been so exciting for so many teams involved. Games are dwindling, mistakes heavily punished, now is the time to give it everything to give those fans something to take from the season.